The Cardinals as a group haven’t just moved far forward from this time last year. So too has Darnell Dockett. The trip to Seattle was the back end of a very rocky week for the defensive tackle last season, after his sideline confrontation with Kerry Rhodes at the end of the Jets game and the let-them-score issue. Dockett was demoted that week in practice and then came off the bench in Seattle. It was a bad time for both him and the team.
“Mentally for me, I wasn’t in the right place, our team wasn’t in the right place in the middle of that losing streak,” Dockett said.
Dockett has bounced back, of course. He was happy with the new scheme that Todd Bowles brought in. He has 4½ sacks, and is coming off – according to profootballfocus.com – two of his best games of the season. The Cardinals need him to play well Sunday in Seattle during this return trip. Dockett sure remembers the last time.
“They had a team that was struggling in every phase and they took full advantage of it,” Dockett said. “They ran the score up. Passing the ball with five minutes left. But that’s cool. I’m not mad. As a team, we have to understand the environment we are going into and we have to understand what is at stake. We have to understand we will face adversity there. Every team that goes there faces adversity. You will have to overcome it real fast.”
Can the Cardinals do that? An excellent question. When Bruce Arians calls this a barometer of where his team is at, that’s a guarantee.
– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was disappointed in his unit last week, not necessarily because they played poorly but because for the first time this season, he felt the players began watching the clock instead of playing the game once the Cards took a 34-17 lead.
“I thought we shut it down,” Bowles said.
I doubt that will be a problem Sunday, nor a possibility, but it’s always good to learn such a lesson in a win.
– As for the rash of penalties the Cards had in the second half, Bowles said “I thought we lost our composure.” Some flags might have been questionable, but Bowles is right, the Cards have to make sure they keep it together.
– Speaking of penalties, fines were handed out from the Titans game. Tennessee linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was hit for $10,000 for his low hit on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, the one that left Palmer with a sprained left ankle (and luckily nothing else.) Titans running back Jackie Battle was not fined for his concussion-inducing hit on Larry Fitzgerald, although it wasn’t a foul and I didn’t even think it was that big of a hit.
Two Cardinals were fined. Linebacker Marcus Benard was docked $15,750 for his roughing the passer penalty on Ryan Fitzpatrick. And linebacker Daryl Washington paid $5,000 after his taunting penalty. Safety Rashad Johnson and defensive end Calais Campbell were not fined for their personal fouls.
– I think Larry Fitzgerald plays. He said he’s never missed a division game and that’s true. He’s missed only four games in 10 seasons, against Cleveland in 2007 and against Chicago, Oakland and Green Bay in 2006.
– A bigger concern is the ankle of Palmer. With all those pass rushers, you want your quarterback as mobile as possible. Coach Bruce Arians didn’t sound concerned. We will see how that plays out. Palmer has played at a high level which is why the Cards are doing so well. He hasn’t seen a defense like the Seahawks though, since, well, the Seahawks game.
– Won’t go through all the playoff permutations again but again, a Cards’ loss and a Carolina win and it’s over. Otherwise, the Cardinals are still breathing.
– Finally, below is a message from Tyrann Mathieu that he wanted to make sure the fans saw.
On to Seattle.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcus Benard, playoffs, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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Considering Larry Fitzgerald’s concussion-fueled plight this week — the wide receiver is expected to play Sunday, although coach Bruce Arians said he still had to go through his official final step of the concussion protocol later Friday and he will officially be questionable — how players hit each other during a game might mean a little more to Fitz.
(And as a quick aside, watching replays of the onside kick hit Fitz took from Tennessee’s Jackie Battle, I didn’t think it was bad at all. It was helmet to helmet out of circumstance more than anything as Fitz curled to protect the ball and Battle’s helmet happened to be in the wrong place. I actually am surprised Battle didn’t try to get him harder. Fitzgerald said he didn’t consider the hit excessive either. UPDATE: And Battle was not fined on the play, FYI.)
With all this talk about defenseless players and the like, it’s surprised me a little that players themselves don’t take it upon themselves to not crush each other in every circumstance. That’s what happened the first time the Cardinals and Seahawks met. Fitzgerald twice delivered blindside blocks on Seattle defensive backs. They were powerful, sure, but they could have absolutely laid the Seahawk out and Fitz clearly didn’t do that. He made the block necessary but wasn’t looking to hurt the guy.
It was so noticeable that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll even said something: “With an iconic guy like that, I just thought it was really powerful. … It’s still a big hit. But it could have been a colossal collision had he taken full advantage of the opportunity, and he didn’t. His poise and his character demonstrated that he understands. That’s really cool stuff and that’s where the league is going. We can do this.”
Fitzgerald was asked about the hits on the now-suspended Walter Thurmond and Richard Sherman. With Fitz, it wasn’t about being nice but instead understanding what big hits can do these days the way officials are calling games.
“There are many ways to skin a cat,” Fitzgerald said. “In that particular position, on both hits, one was third-and-7, Mike (Floyd) was catching the shallow route. I could’ve knocked him out if I wanted to. Possibly we could have gotten a 15-yard penalty and I would have been fined. I don’t want to set my team back. It would have been third-and-20. We were driving. I didn’t want to hurt my team. That’s my first thinking. I can’t speak for anybody else. I just want to make sure I do everything I can to help my team and not hurt it.”
Tags: Jackie Battle, Larry Fitzgerald, Pete Carroll, Richard Sherman
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Sometimes, even the punter builds a fan base.
Dave Zastudil is in the middle of one of his best seasons, averaging 40.4 net yards per punt (45.3 overall) and dropping 32 of his 70 kicks thus far inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He has plenty of fans inside his locker room, between teammates and coaches, but elsewhere? Especially Tennessee? But Zastudil had quite the experience.
It started when he was checking Twitter last week and one of his mentions featured a picture of some guys in a family room holding a giant head shot of someone. “I looked closely and thought, ‘Damn, that’s me,’ ” Zastudil said. He showed the picture/giant head — which featured the tagline “Punting ain’t easy” — to long snapper Mike Leach and kicker Jay Feely, they all had a laugh, and Zastudil thought that was the end of it.
But when Zastudil got out to the field pre-game last Sunday, he looked behind the Cardinals’ bench and there, standing in the front row going crazy and holding up the Ain’t Easy Zastudil head were those same fans.
“Somebody gave me a pen and said, ‘You gotta go sign this,’ ” Zastudil said. “These guys went nuts. Every time I got near them during the game, they went nuts. It was like a funny dream.”
Zastudil said he sensed some “fun sarcasm” in the “punting ain’t easy” message but noted they were just some good Cardinals fans having fun. “I’m just happy the covered up the top part of my head (on the picture) so my hairline was covered,” he said. “It looked like I was a little younger.”
“It’s hard,” Zastudil said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I’m expecting this every game now.”
Tags: Dave Zastudil, Jay Feely, Mike Leach
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When Bruce Arians announced the hiring of his defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, and his offensive coordinator, Harold Goodwin, neither had spent even a day in the Cardinals’ facility when Arians was saying he wanted them to be head coaches sooner rather than later.
Bowles, with a defense ranked seventh and playing excellent football all season for a team that’s 9-5, rightly has to be noticed as a potential candidate. That was emphasized by a report on mmqb.si.com, which said that the NFL created a group of former coaches and GMs to help identify some top head coaching and GM candidates heading into the offseason. The list reportedly is only available to teams that have a vacancy — so the Texans would have it now, for instance, because they fired Gary Kubiak — and has an emphasis on minority candidates after 14 consecutive white coaches and general managers were hired last year.
The Cardinals actually interviewed three of the names for the job Arians eventually got — former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. But also on the list is Bowles, who replaced Horton and has done a nice job with the expectations that came with it.
Bowles has spent a brief amount a time as a head coach, serving as the interim boss for the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2011 season. When I did a story about him recently, I also had a chance to ask him about Arians’ desire to have him become a head coach, and his own thoughts on the subject.
“I just want to be the best coach I can possibly be,” Bowles said. “Coming in here, regardless if you are replacing someone good or bad, you have to prove yourself. No different than a player. That’s all I was concerned about. I don’t worry about being a head coach. I worry about being a good coach. I know what I am. They know what I am.”
Tags: Harold Goodwin, Todd Bowles
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Justin Bethel is having a Pro Bowl season on special teams and deserves a spot in Hawaii. And with two-thirds of the Pro Bowl vote coming from players and coaches that is still possible. But Bethel isn’t getting any help from the fan vote. Despite his excellent year — and to be fair, a special teams player rarely has a ton of recognition outside his home city — Bethel has now fallen out of the top 10 among special teams players. Bethel had been in the top 10 in votes every week until now.
That’s the second Cardinal to lose his place on the top 10 list. Tyrann Mathieu was taken out of the free safeties list after he was placed on injured reserve.
Voting ends Dec. 26. Click here for a ballot.
Three Cardinals are still in the top 10. Darnell Dockett remains 10th among defensive tackles, Karlos Dansby is ninth for inside linebackers (although Bengal and former ASU star Vontaze Burfict is only 110 votes behind) and cornerback Patrick Peterson remains third and a likely Pro Bowler.
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl
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Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald isn’t practicing today because of his concussion but coach Bruce Arians continues to say he expects Fitz to be able to play Sunday, and quarterback Carson Palmer said the same. Palmer, in fact, said he thinks Fitzgerald will be able to practice Thursday. Fitzgerald has historically had good games against the Seahawks and his battles with cornerback Richard Sherman are always fun to watch. Going without Fitz in such an important game isn’t what the Cardinals want to do.
– It doesn’t look as good for safety Rashad Johnson (ankle), and everyone is talking about Tony Jefferson as if Jefferson will be starting. Tight end Rob Housler (groin) is also sitting out.
– Quote of the day from Arians, when asked if he will show the team video of last year’s 58-0 loss in Seattle. “No. It’s not our offense or our defense. Who gives a s***?”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Rashad Johnson, Richard Sherman, Tony Jefferson
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MMQB.com published a interesting read this morning about how Bruce Arians and his staff may have done the best coaching job in the NFL this season. The piece, well worthy of a read, details a couple of plays on offense and defense as to how the staff has done a good job utilizing the Cardinals’ strengths. And it makes a lot of sense.
It’s been notable the Cardinals have tried fewer deep plays as the season has gone on because, quite frankly, the protection wasn’t able to hold up well enough in those situations. Arians has done a nice job diversifying the passing game. It means that someone like Larry Fitzgerald might not get as many catches as many would like, but it may help more in the long-run.
There is also no question that the coaching on the offensive line — led by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, along with assistants Larry Zierlein and David Diaz-Infante — has made a big difference on that unit. The Cards have done a better job scheming protection as the season as gone on, but the more intimate coaching situation helps. When Arians was hired, he said one of the reasons he wanted so many coaches was to, essentially, keep class sizes down for the players (those of you who are or who know teachers know what I am talking about). Teaching matters to Arians. It seems to be paying off.
A couple of other interesting points in the article:
– Author Andy Benoit said he thinks Fitzgerald’s shift to multiple positions helps, even if Fitz’s numbers have shrunk. “The 30-year-old is just beginning what will prove to be a career-extending renaissance” Benoit writes. (Now, whether that can line up with an $18 million salary cap number, well, that’s one of the big questions of the offseason.)
– He called Andre Ellington a future superstar (and made sure to emphasize that he meant superstar and not just star.)
– He noted that Patrick Peterson’s ability to cover main receivers one-on-one with no help creates freedom for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in Bowles’ quality scheming.
As the season comes to a close, the staff has a lot of pressure. Bowles has to handle a couple of physical offenses without key cog Tyrann Mathieu (and maybe without starting safety Rashad Johnson), for instance. And that offensive line that has been doing well enough now has to face a pair of incredible defensive lines. But the Cardinals likely wouldn’t be in this 9-5 position without the chess moves of Arians’ group.
– Arians said during his weekly segment on Sirius XM NFL Radio last night that Fitzgerald will not practice today, but that he remains hopeful that Fitzgerald will be able to play Sunday following his concussion. I saw Fitzgerald yesterday afternoon as he came out to take part in Darnell Dockett’s annual Christmas outing for needy kids. I didn’t speak to Fitz other than to say hi, but I can definitely see how this will have to play out as the week goes along. I don’t expect anything definitive on Fitzgerald before Friday, and even then I wouldn’t be shocked to hear it would be a game-day decision. That’s what happened to Kurt Warner in 2009 in Tennessee, when the decision on game day was to hold Warner out.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, coaching staff, David Diaz-Infante, Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Larry Zierlein, Todd Bowles
Posted in Blog | 22 Comments »
The Cardinals had just lost to the Seahawks in a nationally televised game, a 34-22 decision that wasn’t really even that close. Afterward, quarterback Carson Palmer was blunt. “We all need to step up our game,” Palmer said. “Everybody needs to step up their game. Mainly me being the quarterback – that’s your job. We have to keep growing.”
The Cards were 3-4 and offensively limping along.
The Cardinals have played seven games since, leading into this week and the rematch with the Seahawks, this time in Seattle. That’s no easy task ever, but Palmer’s plea to have the Cardinals step up their game? Message received. In the seven games since Seahawks:
– The Cards have averaged 369 yards of offense a game and averaged 29.9 points a game.
– The Cards have given up 295 yards on defense a game and allowed 18.6 points a game.
– The Cardinals have gone from 29th to 19th in the NFL offensive rankings.
– The Cardinals have gone from 16th to seventh in the NFL defensive rankings.
– Palmer has a quarterback rating of 106.0, with 13 touchdown passes, four interceptions with 69 percent completions.
– Linebacker John Abraham has 9.5 sacks.
– WR Michael Floyd has 27 catches for 516 yards.
Oh, and the Cardinals have won six of seven to get into the playoff hunt. Now the Seahawks are standing in the way of continuing playoff hopes. Bruce Arians called this a barometer for his team. Measuring yourself against the best usually is.
– Speaking of playoffs, which we have done here a lot lately, the NFL put out the reality on paper Tuesday. If the Cardinals lose in Seattle and the Panthers and 49ers win, the Cards are done. A win in Seattle and the Cards are still breathing slightly based on Carolina and New Orleans at that point.
– A pair of Cardinals are up for weekly awards based on fan votes. Cornerback Antoine Cason is in contention for the GMC Never Say Never award for his overtime interception in Tennessee (vote here) and running back Andre Ellington is up for the Pepsi Next rookie of the week award (vote here).
Tags: Andre Ellington, Antoine Cason, Carson Palmer, John Abraham, Michael Floyd, Seahawks
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The news came out today that University of Phoenix Stadium has been picked to host the 2016 national championship game for college football in our post-BCS world. That will be the game following the 2015 season, and will be the second year in a row such an event will be held at the Cardinals’ home. The Super Bowl will be at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2015, following the 2014 NFL season.
Arizona beat out Jacksonville, New Orleans and Tampa for the 2016 game. Tampa was awarded the 2017 game. The game in Arizona will be played January 11, 2016.
“The competition for attracting events with this type of economic impact and prestige is intense,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “For Arizona to be awarded college football’s National Championship game is a huge victory for our community, especially a year after University of Phoenix Stadium will host the Super Bowl. We were excited to work with the Fiesta Bowl on the bid and are anxious to continue that partnership moving forward.”
Said Bill Hancock, executive director of the new College Football Playoff, “Arizona has proven itself to be one of the greatest settings for premiere college football events, and has become a favored destination for fans from around the country. The folks in Arizona put together an exceptional bid that really won the day with the management committee.”
Tags: Michael Bidwill, national championship game, University of Phoenix stadium
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No surprise that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, after suffering a concussion last night in Tennessee, will go through the concussion protocol this week to determine if he can play Sunday in Seattle. That decision won’t be finalized until later in the week. Fitz did pass the tests needed to at least leave the stadium and fly home with the team last night “but that’s still a long way to go from being cleared.” Never know what each day will bring in regard to head injuries.
UPDATE: On his weekly Westwood One radio segment before Monday Night Football, Fitzgerald talked about passing his initial concussion test today. “I feel better than I did yesterday,” Fitzgerald said. He talked about the concussion protocol, saying Monday he saw an independent neurologist who tested Fitzgerald to compare his score to the baseline score Fitzgerald took on the same test in the spring, to make sure Fitzgerald was at the same level.
“Those tests came back positive,” Fitzgerald said. “I was right where I needed to be. (Tuesday) I will see another independent neurologist to get another independent look and at that point it’ll be how I feel going through the week. But right now I’m feeling good and I’m going to get some rest today, some rest tomorrow and get back to work for a big game against Seattle.”
That’s not the only injury concern though. While coach Bruce Arians said quarterback Carson Palmer has a low-grade high ankle sprain and running back Andre Ellington has a thigh bruise and both should be fine, safety Rashad Johnson suffered a bad high-ankle sprain and that’s a major concern. High ankle sprains are usually bad news and mean missed time, and the Cards are already down Tyrann Mathieu. If Johnson is out, rookie Tony Jefferson would be the starting free safety and his backup would be the inexperienced Curtis Taylor.
Arians said Jefferson played well when he stepped in the lineup after Johnson got hurt. “I’m concerned we lost both our safeties the last two weeks and we are down to a rookie,” Arians said. “But it’s Week 15 or 16, whatever the heck it is. (Tony) is not really a rookie anymore. Curtis hasn’t played yet so if he’s out there, I’ll be a little worried because the dropoff from Tyrann and Rashad.”
– Arians said he didn’t think the pass defense’s problem was as much about bad secondary play as much as poor pass rush against the Titans.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer, Curtis Taylor, Larry Fitzgerald, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson
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